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Monthly Archives: February 2012
Welcome to Psychogeographic Review
A website that explores the art of psychogeography. Each month we will publish a psychogeograpy-inspired Editorial, Book of the Month, Film of the Month and Website of the Month.
For March we bring you:
- Walter Benjamin and The Arcades Project
- Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage
- Chris Petit’s Radio On
- Urban Adventure in Rotterdam
Follow the category tabs at the top of the page or on the right-hand column to find whichever item you are looking for. Or just scroll down on the home page.
In coming months we will feature Shelagh Delaney’s Salford, a river journey by Bobby Seal in poetry and photographs, books by Iain Sinclair and George Gissing, Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 and reviews of the best in psychogeographic websites from around the world.
We’d also like to start including music reviews, so any suggestions from our ‘followers’ about artists, composers, bands or albums are welcome.
But Psychogeographic Review is not just about producing content. We want to hear from you. Your comments, criticisms, ideas and suggestions can be submitted at the end of each post or on the Contacts page.
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Dorothy Miller Richardson is a sadly neglected writer. A number of feminist critics began to take up her cause in the 1980s, but I feel it is now time that those of us who class ourselves as psychogeographers should also speak up to encourage people to read her works.
Richardson was born in 1873 and died in 1957. Her seminal work was the sequence of 13 novels, published in 4 volumes, known collectively as Pilgrimage. Both in terms of its subject matter, the journey of one woman, and the amount of time Richardson invested in creating it, Pilgrimage can be regarded as her life’s work.
Although born in Abingdon, Richardson is very much a London writer and, I would contend, a flâneur and a psychogeographer. New to London as a poorly-paid young woman, she walked everywhere. And as she walked, she looked, listened and absorbed, channelling her subjective impressions into her literature.
A contemporary of Virginia Woolf, Richardson was one of the early modernists. Until modernism took centre stage, there had been little or no literary depiction of urban street-life from a female viewpoint. Consequently, in terms of literary fiction, the ‘flâneuse’ was invisible and her narrative was silent. Richardson and Woolf were the key figures responsible for creating a fiction in which women characters were free to journey through and explore the streets of the city, and in doing so to delve into their own consciousness.
Pilgrimage is written from the viewpoint of Richardson’s protagonist, Miriam Henderson. She is represented as being an avid reader who looks through the words of the novels she reads to find meaning, but gradually begins to focus on the words themselves. Miriam switches from looking through the mirror to looking at the mirror and its frame. In the volume entitled The Tunnel, Richardson charts Miriam’s journey through a period of depression. Miriam struggles with the canonical texts of science and literature; rejecting the standard masculine approach but finding it difficult to develop an understanding of a feminist alternative. Pilgrimage represents Miriam’s (and by implication Dorothy Richardson’s) journey to a greater understanding of herself and of female consciousness in general.
Richardson should be considered as very much a metropolitan writer. Seven of the thirteen novels of Pilgrimage are set in the streets of Bloomsbury. The critic, Jean Radford, argues that Richardson ‘uses the city of London to represent the mind and the body of a woman’, thereby turning the streets of the city into ‘materialised history’. In other words, the city is merged into the very psychological make-up of Miriam.
As if to reflect the ever-changing nature of the modern city, Pilgrimage is written in a style that is very different from anything written before. Another contemporary, May Sinclair, described it as a ‘stream of consciousness’ novel; a term which Richardson never fully accepted.
Richardson was dissatisfied with the form of both the romantic and the realist novel. She wanted to write a novel based on her own life experiences, but to transmute it into something different by seeing it through the eyes of her protagonist, Miriam. Miriam’s voice was to replace Richardson’s. But clearly, there was still a narrator behind that voice. Richardson’s great achievement was to develop a new way of expressing her responses to the world that she saw about her. She was a modernist and a feminist. Pilgrimage has been described as the first full-scale impressionist novel.
The chronology of the thirteen volumes of Pilgrimage is interesting in that, although the events of Miriam Henderson’s life are presented chronologically, her understanding of these events – her inner journey – does not always follow this time sequence. Her psychological, and spiritual, development has a temporality of its own. Miriam’s consciousness, Richardson would argue, is emblematic of that of women as a whole.
In essence, Richardson’s London represents the maternal, and The Tunnel and Interim mark the development of a feminist critique of the patriarchal world Miriam lives in. It is her break from the lingering influence of her father. Up until this point the notion of a psychological journey, a pilgrimage, had been seen by writers in entirely male terms. The development of psychological theories and the increased freedom for women to wander through the modern city fed into the fiction of Richardson.
From Charles Baudelaire, through to Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin, much of the critical analysis of urban life has been overshadowed by the figure of the flâneur. This concentration on the leisured, male idler of the urban public sphere, however, has given what might be regarded as a very gender specific colouring to much of the best known work on this subject. Most of the feminist criticism that has taken place since the 1960s, on the other hand, has been concerned to explore the gendered dimensions of city life and has challenged the specifically male account of flânerie. This work has added much needed questions of feminine and masculine identity to considerations of modernity in the city.
Richardson’s Miriam Henderson can certainly be described as a flâneuse. Miriam’s pilgrimage is a very personal one; a journey into her own consciousness. Her struggle to establish an independent life for herself frequently requires her to cross boundaries of gender and class. Richardson’s descriptions of Miriam’s walks through London constantly involve her in crossing roads, bridges and railway lines, as if to mirror her crossing of boundaries in her inner pilgrimage. Yet she finds the solitude of the street strangely soothing and less challenging than the other encounters in her life. Although Miriam closely observes the people she passes on the streets, she never seems to feel part of the crowd.
So I urge you, please don’t let Dorothy Richardson’s works lie neglected. Read Pilgrimage and let it take hold of you. The London streets Miriam/Dorothy walked are still there, as are many of the buildings she frequented. Why not walk those streets with her?
We are the children of Fritz Lang and Werner von Braun. We are the link between the 20′s and the 80′s. All changes in society passes through a sympathetic collaboration with tape recorders, synthesisers and telephones. Our reality is an electronic reality.
I first saw Radio On in 1979. I knew nothing about the film at the time, but a trailer I saw at a local arts cinema a week or two before the film was screened captured my imagination. It was a tracking shot, in grainy black and white, from a car speeding along the Westway to the soundtrack of Bowie’s Always Crashing in the Same Car. Tower blocks, a flyover, crash barriers, a gasometer; a feel of dirty modernity. Something about the sound of the music of David Bowie in his Berlin phase, the sight of the bleak urban landscape of West London and the sensation of the speed and movement of the car caught hold of me and has never really let go.
This is the original British road movie and, for me, it is yet to be equalled. Radio On was directed by Chris Petit, former film critic of Time Out, disciple of Wim Wenders and just returned from self-imposed exile in Germany. Petit’s eyes explore the urban landscape of Britain in the late 1970s with a German sensibility. Indeed, he uses Wenders’s cameraman, Hans Schmidt, to shoot the film in monochrome. The post-punk soundtrack of the film – Bowie, Kraftwerk, Lene Lovich, Graham Parker and the Rumour, Devo – perfectly captures the grey anxiety of that time.
The film concerns a car journey from London to Bristol by a man who wants to find out how and why his brother died. As he travels he plays the compilation tape his brother sent him for his birthday. He engages briefly with a number of different socially detached people he meets on the road. Among them an Eddie Cochran worshipping garage attendant, played by a young Sting. But it’s not the plot that provides the main interest in Radio On, nor is there much development of character. The real subject matter is the landscape of 1970s Britain. And the star is the camera.
Dir. Chris Petit
UK-Germany 1979 | Black & white | 104 mins
Cast: David Beames, Lisa Kreuzer, Sandy Ratcliff, Sting
(Stills, video clip and film poster courtesy of Bfi and Chris Petit)
At the confluence of the Rhine and the Meuse sits Rotterdam. Her eyes looking west, out into the cold, muddy Noordzee and across the Atlantic to America, her heart plugged into the brooding river waters flowing ceaselessly out from Mitteleuropa. Words, ideas, memories, ghosts; strange fruits from the mid-lands of Europe all pass this way. Eventually.
A very strange city which someone once described to me as having its head in America and its heart in Europe. I think she meant that the architecture, at least some of the newer buildings, has an American effervescence about it; while the topography, the deep topography, is rooted heart and soul in Europe. I see parallels between this website and the work of Nick Papadimitriou and John Rogers in London. But the parallels are only in certain shared concepts – this blog is unique and strangely addictive.
Urban exploration – Scientific observation – The invisible city – Psychogeography – Conceptual art
That is what we are promised, and that is what we get. It doesn’t really matter which person the blog belongs to as Rotterdam is the star. Rotterdam is the subject matter. The artist sets out to paint a picture of her and, in a glorious, splattering way, he succeeds. He brings Rotterdam to life and she speaks to us.
He writes about cryptoforests and rooftop human sacrifices. Agoraphobia and taxonomies of invisibility. We play Psychogeography bingo. We learn how to create spam poetry. Heady stuff, in every sense of the word.
His writing is glorious. I am a native English speaker and writer, but I despair of ever being able to write with the verve that colours everything we read on this site. Perhaps it is the fact that he is writing in someone else’s language that gives the words he chooses a kind of hypnotic strangeness. But his words perfectly complement the beauty of the pictures he uses. He shows us a mundane beauty, reflecting and then creating liminal places within the urban landscape. And it’s not just the way he frames the shot, or how he presents the pictures within his blog, but it is his feel for colour that I enjoy the most. Urban Adventure in Rotterdam. Go there!
(All images reproduced courtesy of the owner, Urban Adventure in Rotterdam)
In many ways The Arcades Project is Benjamin’s lament for the passing of the flâneur. For Benjamin, the flâneur’s disappearance functions as a symbol for the ravages of capitalism upon metropolitan life. The changing urban environment was no longer conducive to the slow, ruminative wanderings of the flâneur:
A man who goes for a walk ought not to have to concern himself with any hazards he may run into, or with the regulations of a city. … But he cannot do this today without taking a hundred precautions, without asking the advice of the police department, without mixing with a dazed and breathless herd, for whom the way is marked out in advance by bits of shining metal. If he tries to collect the whimsical thoughts that may have come to mind, very possibly occasioned by sights on the street, he is deafened by car horns, [and] stupefied by loud talkers.
(Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Cambridge, Mass and London, Belknap Harvard, 1999) p. 435)
Pictures from a visit to The Arcades, Leeds, England
Thus Benjamin writes of the flâneur as an endangered species; he is marginalised by the social and technological conditions of modernity: the growth of motorised transport; the monopolising of urban public space by consumer culture; the ubiquity of red tape and the standardisation of the nine-to-five day. The Arcades Project is a collection of texts which mirrors the method of the flâneur and his gathering together of the city’s discarded fragments to try to assemble a comprehensible whole. The Arcades Project’s structure invites the reader to wander through its chaotic structure in the way one might explore the streets of a city. To read Benjamin’s key work is in itself analogous to the practice of flânerie.
That the arcades of Paris were long past their heyday was of no concern to Benjamin; in fact it was a key aspect of his world view that all manifestations of successive civilisations were transitory phenomena. As a consequence of this view, Benjamin saw modernity as transient too.
Benjamin suggests, in The Arcades Project, that we can only pore over modernity’s remnants, its ruins, as opposed to being able to study it as something more permanent. Such explorations through the remnants of an already lost modernity, Benjamin argues, have an almost dreamlike quality. Benjamin refers to a concept of remembrance that he calls eingedenken, which provokes inevitable echoes of Proust’s ‘in search of lost time’. For Benjamin, the environment of the city, in particular the arcades of Paris, prompts a recollection of lost memories of times past.
Benjamin rejects the linear path of continuing progress in history, but instead refers to sudden shocks or flashes that capture ‘the time of the now’ or Jetztzeit. These phenomena are at their clearest, argues Benjamin, when they are in decline. Hence his interest in the Parisian arcades at a time when they were at the end of their heyday.